Blessed Rainbow #1

One of the most difficult parts of the Rainbow in the infant loss community is the fear that the Sun will eventually overpower the Rain. Truthfully, even though I call Chet my Rainbow, he is not. He is my bright Sonshine. But the most brilliant light, when combined with the most threatening storm, produces the most vibrant rainbows. This truth punched me hard in the gut as I reflected over Chet’s first year. I felt like the entire Grief/Joy Coaster was summarized with this one line: Rainbows only exist when Sunshine and Rain co-exist. True, there is no Beauty without the blinding light, but the Rainbow can’t materialize unless that light shines through Rain that is still falling.

I haven’t spoken as often of Thea since Chet was born. I don’t ever want to be perceived as ungrateful. There’s not been a single day since December 25, 2017 that I haven’t poured out Thanksgiving for our Joy Boy. Nor do I want to set up permanent residence in the rain; a sojourn is sufficient. Not to mention, there are some who are ready for me to move along, I know. Many who love me assume that I’ve changed my address for good to the sunny side. Unfortunately, that’s just not the way it works. So, I feel guilty if I speak of her; I feel guilty if I don’t. It’s another paradox tornado that I often find myself swept up in.

Throughout our time somewhere over the rainbow in the past two years, God has mingled precious gifts within the constant drizzle. He has reassured me time and again that even if every other person forgets (which I know is an exaggeration), He remembers. Isn’t it interesting that in placing that bow in the clouds, He said that it was in order that He might remember? I don’t think that’s a “bring to remembrance” in that He is prone to forgetting; I think it’s a remembrance that instead says, “I’m mindful.” I will be mindful of the covenant and act accordingly. I believe that in much the same way, He is reminding us that He is still mindful of our loss. He still knows and understands the hurt. Maybe the Rainbow after a loss isn’t as much a description of the New Joy as it is a small, constant reminder that He is still mindful of the storm. That’s what I’ve chosen to share in the next several blog posts, as a reminder to anyone that might need it (most often myself), that He is mindful in the tiniest details.

The following is a post that I wrote for Chet’s first birthday that I decided to table in order to  take a different path. I’m glad, now, that I did, although I struggled with the decision at the time. We received the first gift quite literally the minute Chet was born.

Chet is ONE! While my mind knows it’s real, my heart balks in disbelief that our beautiful Joy Boy, our tangible evidence of God’s steadfast love, is ONE. The time has passed so quickly–too quickly–every minute of it. I remember thinking with Eli and Eden that the minutes ticked by eternally, but the years disappeared instantly. It’s been different this time. Every minute is fleeting, and I find myself chasing along behind them, frantically gathering them up in my arms in an attempt to stash them away (or hoard them…) in my treasure box of memories. But they are hevel–that vapor of vanity from Ecclesiastes–and they dissipate the moment I cling. 365 days. 8,760 hours. What I wouldn’t give to buy them all back again–all the minutes, even the hard ones. 525,600 minutes at exactly 1:18 a.m. And I would redeem every one.

When we were awaiting his arrival, I quietly hoped for the 18th as yet one more reassurance that this new life was an answer to my prayer for beauty from our pain. The 18th is Thea’s birthday. The day arrived, and late in the afternoon, I began contracting. My heart smiled as I imagined God answering this unspoken prayer of mine. (My deepest prayers were for a smooth delivery and a healthy baby. I would never have dared ask for something as trivial as a date. I just thought an extra nod from God would be cool.) We contacted my parents and asked them to pick the kids up, just in case. However, after a couple of hours, the contractions subsided. No baby. The 18th wasn’t his day.

A similar experience on the 25th convinced us that we should at least have everything examined. We got to the hospital by 10:30 and at 1:18 on the 26th he was in my arms. Well, there’s nothing super special about the 26th. He missed the 25th by an hour. At least that’s a multiple of 5. (Did you know that I’m weird about numbers?) Oh, well. He’ll make it special.

At 2 in the morning I sent birth announcement texts to family and closest friends. I still remember chuckling at my repeated mistake: “Chet Austin has arrived! Born on 1/18…” 1/18?! But this is AUGUST! How does anyone mistake August for January? Silly me, he was born at 1:18, not on it. 1/18 is Thea’s birthday… And I will never forget the moment that followed as the realization washed over my sleep-deprived, just-brought-a-life-into-the-world consciousness…CHET WAS BORN ON THEA’S BIRTHDAY!!! Cue the tears.

What are the odds? I’ll tell you. Of the 1,440 minutes in a single 24 hour day, only two of them are exactly 1:18. That takes the odds to a 1 in 720 chance that his birth would occur precisely at that time. It provides two 60-second windows and no more. A mere 120 seconds, but not all in one stretch. Coincidence? Perhaps. I prefer to call it Providence.

On Thea’s shelf, we have a box of keepsakes to remember her and the imprint that her tiny princess feet made on our hearts. When we open the box, the first thing we see lying on top is the month of January from the 2016 magnetic calendar that was on our refrigerator that year. The only marking is a penciled circle around the 18th. I cry every time I see it. At the top it reads “To New Beginnings”, and what a new beginning it was.

That little pencil mark on that small calendar is difficult for our family. On her day, we try to honor the impact that she made on our lives. There are lots of tears as we pull her box down from the shelf and talk about her. There are also knowing smiles as we send her birthday balloons every year with notes from each of us. We try to make it more about the celebration than the loss. But celebrating a loss still feels backward. We smile in spite of it, but for the most part our celebration is filled with the dull ache (and often stabbing pain) of missing someone of greatest significance.

1-18 is not an easy day for our family, ever. But in giving us Chet, in ever so many ways, God redeemed our 1-18 with a new 1:18. In Ephesians 5:16 in the King James Version, Paul used the phrase “redeeming the time”. Figuratively speaking, the Greek for our English word redeem means “to rescue from loss,” and that is exactly what He did. He redeemed our time. While others might have looked into our lives and seen the passage of time, the gift of a new baby and thought, “No more reason to grieve”; He says, I see the life and the years that you still mourn. They are important to you, and you are important to Me.” Praise God, our Great Redeemer, who cares enough about our pain to rescue us from loss, even in the minute details (to be read as the measurement of time… because this detail to me was anything but tiny)..  Of course, His tender gift doesn’t completely erase the pain. But it reminds us again and again that He sees, He knows, and most importantly He cares.

Paul’s words, however fitting in this chapter of our story, were actually not spoken of God. They were instructions to his readers. In the English Standard Version, verses 15-16 read, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” He redeemed the darkness of our 1-18 with the “light” (Chet’s new favorite word) of 1:18. May I ever remember to redeem it again for Him by making the best use of every minute.

This year, I want to redeem the time by turning my eyes more to the little things, the little rainbows given  to remind us that He is mindful.

 

Of Broken Playgrounds and Loss after Loss

Why is loss after loss so much harder? Even when it’s just a material thing that can be replaced? A year ago it was a chicken. Today it is our playground. Why am I so broken over a broken playground? 

Maybe it’s the long playground journey that brought us here in the first place. When Eli was two, we moved back to Greenville, lived right in the middle of town, and filled what backyard we had with someone else’s cast off metal swing set. It was pink. Eli wasn’t thrilled with the color. We hoped to repaint it but instead moved to a place with FIFTY of those backyards in one and decided instead to buy a new one. Mix-up after mix-up with the store turned into no swing set at all. But before we knew it, we were on the move again, this time to a rental home in Birmingham. There was no sense in putting a swing set in a place that was only temporary. When we purchased our present home after our two-year lease, it was time to consider a new swing set. But first there was a high risk pregnancy to attend to. When Steadfast Love was safely in our arms, we could turn our attention elsewhere. At what seemed the perfect time, we learned of a video contest, and first prize was a playground! We set our creative minds to the task, and we worked hard on our entry. Alas, 3rd place didn’t come with a playground. Since everyone had worked so hard, and their carefree childhood clocks were ticking at break-neck speed, Santa decided to give a consolation prize. Unfortunately, Santa’s prize didn’t include assembly. Four and a half months later at ages 10, 7, and 8 mos., the kids finally had their first playground of their own.  Nine months later, it is gone.

Maybe it’s the walk alongside the kids in their grief that makes it so difficult. Just this past Thursday, I shared with them the big piece of Thea’s story that had been missing from their puzzle. There were just too many questions that were becoming increasingly difficult to answer without being dishonest or misleading, at the very least. I hadn’t been able to shelter them from the tragedy, but I had carefully guarded their hearts against the trauma for almost four years. But Thursday I broke those little hearts all over again. There were tears, lots of questions, apologies. But there were also knowing embraces. Just two days later, our Eden is grieving again. She sits for a long time on the storm-soaked ground in front of her upside-down dream, just taking it all in. “It’s just not fair,” she says when she finally comes inside. “My playground is broken, and so is my heart.” I squeeze her long and dig deep for words because her broken heart is an echo of my own. “I know, Eden. But God doesn’t leave anything broken!” I say it through tears, and I am reminding myself. Eli is quick to add that he’s had many things that were broken and never repaired. I shoot him the you’re-not-helping-anything glare, but in the back of my mind, I question, too. “Will there be another? Can we replace what was broken? Will this have to be a hard lesson on loss and finances and insurance deductibles?”

Or maybe it’s the conversation that I had over the phone with the life insurance representative only minutes before the storm struck that’s still ringing through my ears as I rush out the door to assess the damage. He was rolling through his list of questions, so good at his job that I almost believed he was an automated system. Then I knocked him flat on his back when he asked about any hospitalizations in the last 5 years. And surgeries or procedures? I had to spell things that were completely unfamiliar to him. I had to share our Thea over the phone with a man who sounded like a robot. Cold, lifeless words like “miscarriage”, and “a loss” were tossed about in reference our daughter. I listed dates for him as if they were just random numbers. He couldn’t know that they are days that bleed red for me. He turned off auto pilot for a few minutes and pondered, “I’m not really sure how to record that.” I thought, “Welcome to the club.” I wanted to say, “She’s not Miscarriage or Premature Birth or Loss! She is our daughter, Thea, our gift from God!” But bless him, he had no idea what he was getting into on the other line when he dialed my number.

Why are all loses after loss so much harder?  Maybe it’s that every one–whether the loss of a chicken or the loss of a playground–somehow finds its way back to the one. And, in a small way, you live the hard one over again. It’s just a playground. It’s a material thing. We are so thankful that it wasn’t our home or even worse, our family. There are already smiles again and new games to play with broken playground equipment. Broken playgrounds are a first world problem. Broken hearts, though, are universal. And they take a little more time to mend.

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

When you stir in the morning, I rub your chubby one-year-old feet, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

I watch your one-year-old toes curl in my hand, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You sigh a one-year-old sigh and snuggle into your happy place, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

I draw you into mine as I cuddle you in a comfortable one-year-old embrace, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

Your one-year-old hair is still long enough to be crazy when you wake, even though we already cut away the baby goodness, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You roll over and stretch a big one-year-old stretch from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

Your exquisite one-year-old eyelashes finally flutter open, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

Your eyes disappear in your one-year-old smile, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You squeak your first one-year-old word of the day, always the same, whatever is your favorite at the time, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

It once was “Baow!”, but now it’s “Yee-IGHT!”, and you reach for it with open, one-year-old hands, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

All the while you’re pouring your one-year-old Light into our lives, for HIS steadfast love endures forever

You greet the rest of the family to start your one-year-old day, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

For I-dee, a tug on her hair; for Eli, a smack in the face; for Daddy, a one-year-old complaint until he takes you into his arms, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You entertain us with clever one-year-old antics, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You lie flat on your stomach, arms outstretched, your one-year old face buried in the carpet, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You raise your head just enough to peek out from the corner of your eye with a mischievous one-year-old twinkle, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

It’s as if your only one-year-old job is to make us laugh, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You observe us at the table and mimic the inflection in our voices with your one-year-old conversation, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You lift one quizzical one-year-old eyebrow, mildly amused, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

Rolly one-year-old legs toddle behind, beside, on top of your Little Mama, even to the ends of the Earth, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

Eli fills your one-year-old mind with so many word pictures–meaningful, silly, powerful, strange–for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

The wind ruffles through your one-year-old hair as you swing right alongside them, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

Your one-year-old giggles echo those of your Bigs, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

All day long you “go go” where we go–to the school room, to ballet, to late night youth activities–without a concern, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You take determined pride in your one-year-old splashes in the bath, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

But you smile hardest wrapped in your one-year-old Daddy Taco Towel, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

I read our ten-year-old story books to my one-year-old boy as we settle for the night, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

Your one-year-old anticipation grows as we turn the page to find the familiar cow, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You do your best one-year-old impression, “Muh! Muh!”, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

You look to me expectantly until I moo long and you burst into one-year-old laughter, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

In the end, we find ourselves intertwined again, and all is right in our worlds, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

I reflect on this one-year-old dance that we’ve been learning, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

It’s a sacred and beautiful dance of laughter through tears, joy undergirded with grief (Proverbs 14:13), for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

It is with the understanding that Rainbows only exist when sunshine and rain co-exist, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

In all the things, and in all the ways, big and small, ONLY for HIS steadfast love endures forever.

Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for HIS steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1)

 

I’m So Sorry

Did you know that there are approximately 200 month-long observances to raise awareness, or to celebrate or commemorate an event?  200!! That’s an average of 16.7 things that should penetrate deep into your consciousness every month.  They range from the obscure (I’m talking about you, National Correct Posture Month, in May.) to the prominent (Black History Month in February or Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Pinktober).  Coincidentally, our minds must be more alert in October; this month takes the blue ribbon with 30+ reasons to be aware. Even if you were to dedicate one day in the month to each cause, you would still neglect a few.  It seems as if there is a new day or month of awareness every time you open social media.  Have you ever wondered why?  Why are there so many of This-or-That Awareness Month?  Why do we seem so concerned with others’ awareness?  Why do we feel the need to capture a closed mind and open it up to a world it might not have otherwise known?

Frankly, I think it is because we need burden bearers.  When we are walking the valley of the shadow of death; swimming in an ocean of poor life choices; trudging through a desert parched by depression; fighting just to get to the mountain of physical wellness, much less climb it; when we are struggling in life, we need those willing to lift up our arms, or hold our hands, or even just offer an encouraging pat on the back.  Unfortunately, burden-bearing does not describe our society well. Or is it humanity in general, across space and time?  Maybe that’s why Paul had to instruct Christians to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).  One would think that the bearing and sharing of burdens would be natural among Christ followers.  However, typically we are not as likely to be the Simons bearing the cross of Christ as we are the Peters watching from afar.   Don’t Peter’s clothes fit us all a little more comfortably? Hence the need to try and swallow the world in a cloak that’s far too big for its shoulders along with a responsibility to match it in size.  We (myself included) are more than willing to prepare a meal, send a card, as long as it keeps us on the sidelines without having to get down in the filthy mess of it all.

Among the many in the month of October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness. Honestly I knew nothing of its existence in any official capacity until I found myself cleaning up the devastation in the wake of my own storm.  Now I share it openly. Why? Partially because I need for others to understand without judgment when I still cry–sometimes uncontrollably–almost three years later.  I need for them to accept that one child doesn’t replace another. I need for them to know that my Angel Baby still frequents my dreams. I need their compassion when they see me holding my beautiful baby boy with love bursting from every seam of my heart and tears still trailing from my eyes.  I need for them to know that while they see my three babies together, in my mind’s eye I still see four, and I often wonder how different our family dynamic would be with a 2 ½ year old princess in the mix. I yearn for understanding, for acceptance, for knowledge, or even simply for…awareness.

It was a long, long time into the grief process before I grasped the magnitude of the fact that I was already wrapped in the awareness of the only One that matters.  When no one else understands my sorrow, He does.  He prescribed the medicine that heals a woman’s sorrow in childbirth (John 16:21).  When that medicine is withheld for whatever reason, He understands that the sorrow remains.  When no one else knows my inward battle for contentment, He does.  He Himself matched the barren womb to a fire, a land bereft of water, even the very grave–four things that never say “Enough” (Proverbs 30:15-16). {**Please note that I am in no way comparing my journey with that of a woman struggling with infertility.  When I saw the ultrasound screen the night after Thea was born, it was completely void of life–life that had filled it only hours before.  I have often read the word “barren” from that perspective–void of life–since her loss.  If infertility is your struggle, while I can’t say that I understand it fully, I know that there is extreme pain–even grief–associated with it, and I hurt for you.  And, more importantly, God knows, too.**}

However, the most affirming experience occurred last fall.  During our Bible time one morning, I was working with Eli on his Bible Bowl questions.  Since he needed my attention, I had Eden busy writing a card. She chose to make one for a recently widowed member of our congregation.  I told her it was a fantastic idea and busied myself with Eli, Paul, and the Corinthians. Very soon, I heard her little voice. “Mama? How do you spell ‘grieve’?”  I answered absent-mindedly, still absorbed in Bible Bowl. The word kept knocking on the door of my mind, though, and once I allowed it inside, I realized what strange diction this was for a five year old.  Curious, I peeked over her shoulder and read the words: “Dear Mrs. Friend, I am so sorry that you have to grieve.” I gave her a little squeeze, tears spilling down my cheeks. “What is it, Mama? Is it bad?”  She thought that there was something wrong with what she’d written. “Oh no!” I reassured her. “I think your words are perfect.”

Several months prior to this event, I’d begun to wonder if at times there wasn’t something in Eden’s words with special meaning.  (It sounds crazy, I know, but if I could share all the times that one small, seemingly out-of-place line from her lips spoke exactly the words that my heart needed to hear in that moment, you might be almost as convinced as I am.)  So many times, those words were, in the most realistic sense, a gift from God.  Because of that, any time she said something that particularly caught my attention, I turned it over and over again in my mind.  I did the same with her written message. I was continually astounded by its simple perfection. “These,” I thought, “are the perfect words for someone who is grieving.  No attempts to explain grief away, no empty cliches. Just simple and perfect.”  It took several more days, however, for me to realize that they were also (once again) the perfect words for me.

About a week later, I heard Eli’s frantic voice tearing up our basement stairs.  My heart froze as I threw the door open to meet him, preparing myself for what he was about to report.  “Mommy, I can’t find Cluck! I counted the chickens and there were only nine of them. I can’t find Cluck!  Do you think he’s dead? I know he’s dead!”   It took several minutes for me to calm him enough to process through his words.  Eventually, I convinced him that Cluck was probably just in the coop and hadn’t come out with the other chickens yet.  Still spooked, Eden accompanied him as he finished feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs. It didn’t take long before they both returned, screaming in sheer panic.  “I was right, Mommy! He is dead!  And I saw him!”  They were both sobbing uncontrollably.  I gathered them both in my arms, and we all sat right where we were, at the top of the basement stairs.

I felt tears stinging my face as I soothed.  And I thought, “Really, Jamie?! You’re going to cry over a chicken?!”  And then I heard myself whisper, “I’m so sorry.”  Suddenly, Eden’s words came flooding back to me. I wasn’t crying over the chicken, I was crying over my Little Chicks, Eli and Eden.  You see, that word “dead” strikes a discordant toll in our home.  Yes, it was just a chicken, but death has touched the lives of those poor babies in ways that it hadn’t mine at their same age.  They understood it in ways that most children don’t because thankfully, most children don’t have to.  As I watched them mourn a silly chicken, my tears mingled with theirs because I was so sorry that they had to grieve.

It struck me that my Jesus loves me far more perfectly than I love my babies.  My mind raced to a familiar story of our Lord, who witnessed the grief of His dear friends Mary and Martha over the loss of their brother, Lazarus.  Jesus knew the Grand Finale, and He even knew that this separation was ultimately for their good and the Father’s glory…yet He wept. Surely he wasn’t weeping over Lazarus.  Yes, Lazarus was His friend whom He dearly loved, but He knew that Lazarus would soon awaken and walk among them again. As He watched them mourn their brother, His tears mingled with theirs because He was so sorry that they had to grieve.

All the pieces began to fit together perfectly–Eden’s words of condolence, the chicken, the story of Lazarus.  In that moment, Jesus said to me, “Jamie, I’m so sorry that you’ve had to grieve. For these two years you’ve been grieving so hard.  And it has broken My heart for you.  Death was never intended to be part of this story, and it hurts me to see you broken by it.  I’m just so sorry.” I looked again at Eli and Eden gathered there in my arms. In the same way, I felt as if I had been gathered into the arms of our loving Lord as He soothed my grieving heart.

Dear one, if you are grieving; if you are yearning for understanding, acceptance, knowledge, awareness, know that you have it already.  From the One that matters most.  Run to Him and let Him dry your tears.  He is so sorry that you have to grieve.

We ARE a Family of Six

My arms wrap around a large basketball belly (Let’s be real…it’s a beach ball.) in order to reach the laptop that is running out of room in its home.  God has been so faithful in seeing us through every single milestone–large and small–of this pregnancy. I was humbled to tears two weeks ago when I realized, at 37 weeks, that we were praying through our last big milestone.  There have been so many along the way that standing near the end of the road just feels surreal. Now we wait. And trust. To be honest, I’m thankful for a little more time. There is one more thing that I had hoped to share before we meet Chet face to face.  It is this very simple but often neglected truth that we are–at this moment, with only four sets of praying hands among us, four mouths to feed, four pairs of feet to carry us on our lives’ journeys–we are presently a family of SIX.

Collectively we pray for the individual members of our family every day.  Eden’s request typically follows a predictable pattern, with only a few variations here and there. “Please be with Mommy and Daddy, Eli, and me, Thea and Baby Berry as we lost Thea and we’re getting ready for Baby Berry.”  It steals my breath; she prays for Thea. Every time. This is not a habit that she learned from me. I have petitioned God on Thea’s behalf.  Maybe it’s silly, but there have been times when I’ve asked Him to hold her especially close, sing her a lullaby, share with her something that we are thinking, feeling, or doing, let her know how much she impacts our lives.  However, I don’t pray for her in the same ways that I do for Eli and Eden. I know that she has God’s love, guidance, and protection in ways that they don’t yet.  She is safe in a way that they are not. Those truths influence the direction of my prayers for her.  Not to mention, those prayers for Thea are some of the most intimate prayers that I offer from the very depths of my soul.  I don’t recall ever sharing them with anyone, especially not the kids.  But Eden never skips over her little sister in prayer.  When she is tasked with praying for our family, she always remembers our Thea girl, because she is a natural part of our family to Eden.  I figure that one day she will outgrow or out-think her need for it.  Until that time, I certainly won’t be the one to take that away from her.

There will never be a time when Thea is not acknowledged in this home as part of our family.  Her name is inscribed on the jewelry that I wear, just as it is forever inscribed on each of our hearts.  The fact that her physical presence isn’t with us is by no means reason to wipe her existence from our lives or our family.  In much the same way, we already count Chet as a member of the Powell tribe.

Almost a year ago now, the kids and I were preparing to meet my sister and her family for a trip to the zoo.  At the time God was growing a beautiful little life inside of her.  Eden made this simple observation: “They’re a family of four just like us!”  She paused for a moment of thought and then, “Well…not exactly like us.”  Here I thought she would insert the distinction  that their baby had not yet been born, but instead she continued, “We have a baby in Heaven,  But we can take her EVERYWHERE! And she’s really light!” (When Eden gets sad about not having Thea to hold, I remind her that we can hold her in our hearts ALWAYS.)

My initial response to her words was wonder.  That and gratitude. I marvel and am so thankful that even at five years old, she already recognized and acknowledged the beauty and sanctity of life, even in its earliest stages.  In Eden’s mind they weren’t waiting for the baby to join their family through birth.  There was no waiting for them to be a family of four; they simply were, even with three months remaining in the pregnancy.

I often think about how we use this or similar terminology, “We are expecting a baby” when the truth is, we already have one, he or she is just not yet there to hold in our arms.  I see pictures of couples and families the night before a scheduled birth that are captioned, “Last night as a family of __________”.   I understand the sentiment behind them, and I don’t fault them at all. However, the truth is, our hearts made room and our families grew by one the moment we saw that little indicator on the stick.  Just something to consider: might we better champion the battle for the sanctity of life if those of us who believe so strongly in it more consistently acknowledged it from the beginning?

Every life is a gift, every child a blessing, regardless of age or gestational development.  When you see our family with your physical eyes, you will only see two of those gifts, but truthfully there are four.  Lord willing, in the very near future you will see a third.  However, if you look with your heart, even now you will see four of them, and six members of our family.

Great is HIS Faithfulness: And His Name is…

I’ve been fascinated with names this year.  I have always believed that a name is a gift and should be chosen with discretion.  However, as this year has progressed, I’ve wondered if just maybe it might be even more than that–maybe more than just a gift; something that carries meaning and purpose; something that is important to the bearer, the bestower, and maybe even to the Father.  

It first struck me early in the year as I read about the high priestly garments in the book of Exodus–the shoulder pieces of his ephod and the breastpiece of judgment over his heart were both engraved with the names of the sons of Israel (Ex. 28:11- 13, 29).  But the reason given for it was what most intrigued me: “to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.”  Surely God doesn’t need a reminder!  Still He requested a specific act in order to bring the people into a “regular remembrance.”  I considered the importance of praying for people by name in order to bring them into a regular remembrance before His throne.  Armed with this conviction, I was determined to have names chosen by the time we learned gender so that this babe could be brought to regular remembrance before his Father by name.

On Christmas day, upon learning of the existence of this child, I knew the name…for a girl.  We would name her Faith Noelle.  The previous two plus years had been such a journey of faith for our entire family, and obviously, Noelle would commemorate the fact that she was our Christmas gift in 2017.  For a boy, we had no idea. That would surely determine the gender of this baby, I thought, as we had always chosen a name for the opposite gender.  As early as 14 weeks, we were fairly confident that our luck had followed us into this fourth pregnancy.  By 18 weeks, we were certain, still with no name to bring before the Father.

We could have just chosen one.  We had a list all along. However, with every one there was something holding us back.  Maybe I obsessed over it a bit too much, but that meaning was so important to me!  I agonized over the story of Nabal and Abigail. After watching over a very rich Nabal’s shepherds and livestock in the wilderness, David requested of him to spare any extra that he might have on hand for his men.  Nabal denied his request and returned David’s good with evil, and David determined to punish him by taking his life. When his discerning and beautiful wife Abigail interceded on his behalf, her words haunted me, “As his name is, so is he.  Nabal is his name {Nabal means fool.}, and folly is with him” (I Samuel 25:25). As his name is, so is he.  I wanted this to be said of our son one day, only from a positive perspective.

The book of First Chronicles begins with lists of genealogies (nine chapters’ worth!).  You will find detailed lists of the descendants from Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Jacob, from each of the 12 sons of Israel.  There are genealogies and descendants of the Davidic line and that of King Saul. Needless to say, it can be rather tedious reading. However, in the midst of one of those tedious repetitive lists–the sons of ____: _____, _____, and _____; the sons of _____: _____ and _____, there’s a two-verse pause to tell the story of a man named Jabez.  According to Scripture, he was “more honorable than his brothers”.  Maybe that’s why there was more to his biography than a mention of his name.  His mother had named him Jabez because she “bore him in pain” (I Chron. 4:9). At some point later in his life, he cried out to God for blessing, that God’s hand would be with him, to keep him from harm so that it might not “bring him…pain!” (vv. 10-11).  I would say that perhaps at least Jabez assigned meaning to his name that he carried with him throughout his life.  But the crazy part? God validated this fact because He “granted what he asked.” Maybe there was more than just human superstition behind Jabez’s request.  Perhaps a name is not only meaningful but also powerful.  

No pressure.  I searched through some of my favorite Scriptures, seeking out powerful words whose Hebrew or Greek equivalent might be suitable for a name.  I found several that would make beautiful girl names.  I wrestled with the word chesed for weeks.  It is Hebrew in origin and most often translated “steadfast love” or “mercy”.  I reflected over the steadfast love that God has shown our family from the beginning, those verses in Lamentations 3 that had been so instrumental in the very early days of my healing.  Try as I might, though, I could not work it into a suitable boy’s name. I wanted meaningful, but I didn’t want to punish a child by giving him such an unusual name that no one knew how even to begin pronouncing it.

On Sunday night, July 1, our minister delivered a lesson on “The Faithfulness of God” from Lamentations 3.  From the beginning, I braced myself, knowing that this would be an emotional ride.  He spoke of the despair of the prophet Jeremiah as he looked around and saw his city, God’s city, Jerusalem, completely devastated–the houses, the streets, the very temple where God’s presence resided were left in rubble.  Oh, how I had identified with his pain as I read only months after my heart had been crushed and itself left in a pile of rubble! Yet in the middle of that chapter so filled with despair, there is hope (Lam. 3:21)!  And it begins with these memorable verses:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

   his mercies never come to an end;

23 they are new every morning;

   great is your faithfulness.

24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

   “therefore I will hope in him.”

He spoke of the Hebrew word chesed.  There it was, in all its meaning and full of power.  They were words and ideas that I knew all too well, but hearing them all was so reaffirming.

One thing, however, that was not as familiar to me was the fact that this chapter of Lamentations was written as an acrostic.  There are 66 verses, each triplet of verses corresponding alphabetically with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  I thought again about verses 22-24, knowing that verse 22 began with the word chesed.  “I wonder about the Hebrew letter that corresponds with these three verses.”  I Googled it (during worship, I admit, but I was so excited!), and there it was.

                              The steadfast love the Lord never ceases;

                                                              His mercies never come to an end;

                               They are new every morning;

                                                              GREAT is your faithfulness;

                               “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul.

                                                               “Therefore, I will hope in HIM.”

I knew almost immediately that I was staring down at the name of our son.  But before I could claim it, I also knew that it had to pass the family test.  Eden has approved almost every name we’ve tossed in her direction. She’s so in love with this baby that she doesn’t even care what we call him!  Darrell said, “I like that. It’s kinda cool” (his one request in the Name Game). It even has a bit of an Old West flare to it–always a win with Darrell.  He thought it was suitable for a baby boy and a good, strong man’s name.  Eli was the hardest to convince.  Even though it was a real name and not something that I was just squeezing into the mold of something somewhat resembling a name, it was just too different, he said.  However, when I told him that as the 8th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it also represents the number 8 (his favorite number), he was all in, too.

We are eagerly anticipating the day when we are able to introduce you formally to our fourth arrow and second son,

Chet Austin Powell

(Austin after his daddy and as a shout-out to all of his family that hails from Austin, TX). We ask, if you will, to bring him to regular remembrance by name before the LORD.  This baby serves as a reminder to us of His steadfast love that will–because we’ve lived it–remain with us regardless of what happens on the day of his birth. Truly, GREAT is the faithfulness that God has shown to us–in our brightest joy and even in our darkest despair.  But He has been our portion, and therefore we will hope in Him.

Rejoice in the Lord. ALWAYS.

My hands were clenched tightly to the pew in front of me.  The passage of Scripture for the morning’s chosen theme appeared on the screen, and before the reader had uttered even one syllable, I knew that this service would prove to be more difficult a struggle than a typical Sunday worship service, if that was even possible.  Just fight it, Jamie. Fight it! I urged. I coaxed. I demanded.  Not to fight the tears; I’d given up on that futile battle weeks before.  No, instead I was desperately trying to fight the sobbing, fight the involuntary hiccup-swallow that I had developed when my heart would catch hard–often unexpectedly–in my throat.  I knew this passage too well. The words resounded through the auditorium, and their echoes clanged heavily in the black darkness of my mind. Jesus never intended them to be harsh or hurtful, but hearing them spoken aloud crushed my heart.  

16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:16-24, ESV)

I was thankful when the reader concluded and the congregation began to sing, although I didn’t join with them.  I couldn’t even silently mouth the words in order to present a halfway believable charade because I was still fighting so hard.  I knew that if I moved my mouth even a hair’s breadth, I would succumb. One false move, and I would literally be a puddle on the floor, right on the front row for all eyes to see.

The theme of the service?  JOY.  Only months removed from our Thea’s loss, a service on joy.  Joy was the last thing on my mind, on my tongue, or in my heart.  The lesson was the second in a sermon series entitled In Step with the Spirit, in which our preacher explored the fruit of the Spirit from a powerfully fresh perspective each week.  This lesson on joy, I felt (as I did with all of them in the series), was intended just for me. I just wished that it hadn’t been such a public experience.  In solitude, where I could weep if I needed to, would have been preferable.

I had many questions with which to wrestle over the next several days.  If a woman’s sorrow and anguish are forgotten, her joy restored, with the arrival of new life, what happens to the woman who labors in sorrow and anguish only to leave the hospital with arms empty, heart shattered?  What restores her joy? WHAT?!  Could I ever hope to feel joyful again?  My only consolation was the truth that these were the words of Jesus Himself.  He knew that a woman is plagued with sorrow when her time comes, and He prescribed the cure for that sorrow.  Surely He also then understood the dreadful, lingering sorrow when the prescription was withheld. Jesus knew.  He understood.  Even if no one else on this earth did, HE did.  And that was enough.  Maybe He didn’t expect me to be joyful in this moment; He understood and accepted my sorrow.

Even a year later, I still struggled with joy.  I had found contentment.  I had found peace.  I had been astounded time and time again by God’s faithfulness to our little family, and my own faith was exploding.  But no one that knows me would have described my life as being joyful. Often I found myself trudging through the valley (at least it wasn’t the treacherous canyon that it had been for so long!), but most days I aimlessly walked the endless plains. Occasionally there would be a tiny ripple of a hill to cross my path.  I smiled and I laughed, but I never stood atop a majestic mountain, in awe of the splendor before me. Along that journey, those passages that I wrestled with most were sprinkled gently into my life here and there in the desert places–maybe not by coincidence. Sometimes they were sprinkled, and sometimes they were poured, like the passage in John 16.

That same summer, there was a downpour.  I was teaching the teen girls at Backwoods Christian Camp.  The opportunity to teach those girls–even though it still scares me to death–has been a little hill in my summers for about 16 years now.  Imagine my dismay, though, when I looked over the Bible material for the week and saw that it was entitled “Think on These Things” and covered Philippians 4:4-8.  Wouldn’t. You. Know. that the lessons I was responsible for teaching were “Rejoice in the Lord Always” and “Do Not Be Anxious for Anything”. (If you know me, you’re giggling with the irony.)

Have you ever taught a Bible class?  If you haven’t, I would encourage you to do so.  If you have, then you already know that the student that gains the most from the lesson is not the one sitting in front of you but the one presenting the material.  I don’t remember much about the actual delivery of those lessons; I’m pretty sure that I recklessly stumbled my way through from beginning to end. I felt a little guilty about that, but I don’t know that they were intended for those girls.  I think that instead they might have been intended for me.  And the lessons that I gained were immeasurable on my journey toward joy.

In preparation for the first lesson, I read Philippians 4:4 over and over and over again.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.”  I asked myself a million times, “How can you, of all people, teach anyone to rejoice, much less to rejoice always and in all things?”  I prayed.  I cried. I studied. I stared at that word rejoice.  I have always loved words.  I am a Word Nerd. I love the images that sounds and syllables conjure in a mind; I love the ability to communicate through a spoken word; and I love the study of its history through etymology.  Eli and I had been studying Latin stems in his language arts program. Although often described as a “dead language”, Latin lives and thrives in the many languages that it influenced, English being one of them.  

As I looked long at that word “rejoice”, for the first time I began to see in it one of the Latin stems that Eli learned early in the year, the stem re-.  It permeates our language–repeat, redo, rewrite…restore, redeem.  We use it so often that we all understand what it means, often without even thinking of its meaning: again, anew, once more.  The other building block in the word “rejoice” is joir, from Old French, meaning “experience joy”.  If I took the two building blocks re- and joir and joined them together, my new word would literally mean to experience joy…again, to experience joy…anew, to experience joy…once more.  Suddenly Philippians 4:4 adopted a brand new meaning.

What if…Paul’s instructions don’t imply that we should always be joyful in every moment and every situation because we are in the Lord?  (Have you ever gotten that impression?  That even in the midst of utter grief and devastation, we should still be able to dig deep and rejoice (i.e., be joyful) because of Christ?  And when you’re digging and you just can’t seem to dig deep enough, you feel guilty and wonder what’s wrong with my faith?)  What if…the word “rejoice”–to experience joy again–instead acknowledges that there will be times in our lives in which we don’t experience joy, and that’s OK?  In order for a person to be glad again, it is implied that there is a period in which he or she is not glad.  What if…the message is not that we are to be always joyful, but that there will be periods in our lives when we are thirsty and water is scarce; when we are wandering lost and in darkness, and we can’t seem to find even a glimmer of light; when joy is the last thing on our minds, on our tongues, or in our hearts…but during those times we can maintain hope that God is faithful, and we will, at some point, rejoice?  We will experience joy once more.

However, this is only part of the equation.  Rejoice, YES! Cling to the hope that one day, somehow, you will experience joy again  But Paul’s admonition is to rejoice (be glad again)…in the Lord.  What if…his point isn’t that we should always be glad in some form or fashion because we are in Christ, but instead that we will experience joy again when we allow HIM to restore it in us?  Oh, how often have I tried to infuse joy into my own life, by my own hand?!  Weary of the desert, the wandering, the darkness, I have reached in vain toward things that I thought might restore my joy.  It was only when I relinquished them all into God’s hands and asked Him to write our story that He took the pen and began a story that I could never even begin to imagine.  What if…in our wilderness of wandering, when we are parched and lonely, we ask Him to restore?  We cling in faith to hope, and we wait.  The waiting is admittedly one of the hardest parts.  We are impatient; the journey is exhausting; the thirst is excruciating; the darkness is terrifying.  We want to be anywhere but in that wilderness.  But what if His best work is done in that wilderness of wandering and waiting?   What if He’s asking us to stay just a little longer until all things are ready?  What if He’s working all along to mold us into this new creation whose joy can be FULL in Him?  What if we still our busy hands and let Him do His work?  What would our joy–His joy–look like in our lives?

Admittedly, I am no theologian.  I am a student of English, not Greek.  A Bible scholar, or a devoted student of Greek. might rip this concept apart, theologically speaking, in a matter of seconds.  It might be the farthest thing from Paul’s intended message in Philippians 4. That’s why I included so many “what if”s. 🙂  However, I don’t think that anyone would argue against David’s anguish in Psalm 13 when he cries out to God, “How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?”  I don’t imagine his heart was joy-filled as he penned these words.  But only 3 short verses later, he says, “But [I wonder if this is one of those hard “nevertheless”’s] I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”  Notice that David doesn’t say that his heart rejoices, but that it shall rejoice, in the future tense.  Doesn’t it just make sense that he’s saying, “I’m not joyful in this moment, but I know that my heart will experience joy again?”  I’m hurting, and I feel forgotten and alone.  But deep down, I know that You are faithful and loving, and I’m clinging to that.  I know that you will lead me to green pastures; You will allow me to experience joy anew along this path that You have planned for my feet.  Give me patience in the waiting and the wandering, and help me to remember that there is purpose. If you are questioning with David, “How long, O LORD?” let me encourage you to cling to hope, trust His time and His plan, and

Rejoice in the Lord.  ALWAYS!

20 weeks +6: This Time I Will Praise the LORD

I’m preparing for another day of worship to my faithful Father.  But this Sunday is not just any Sunday. On this Sunday, I am 20 weeks and 6 days… filled with LIFE.  I’ve experienced some pretty remarkable days that rank pretty high on my list of favorites–a beautiful wedding day, the births of Eli and Eden.  But I don’t know that I have ever been more thankful for any other day in my life than I am of this day. On this day, I have carried this baby just one more day.  This time, I will praise the LORD.

We are currently on the hunt for another name.  I had the perfect name for a baby girl.  It was one that would have told our entire story with this baby, all within her name.  I chose it immediately, the same day that we learned of the pregnancy. But would you believe that this baby is a boy?  (Let the tradition continue!)  I had planned to have a name chosen by the time we learned gender so that we could ask our sweet friends to lift this sweet babe by name.  Unfortunately, that mystery name is still floating around out there in the vast unknown.

We have been keeping our hearts open to anything that we might encounter in the search process, though!  Since all of my other babies’ names were based in the Bible, that’s been my primary source. So stories of Biblical names have been of particular interest to me as I read and study this year.

A few months ago, I was reading the story of Jacob’s sons, paying close attention to their names and the meanings behind them.  As I read, I was touched by Leah in a way that I haven’t been before, and I could identify with her on a new level. The first three of her boys–Reuben, Simeon, and Levi–were named with her struggling marriage and her sorely neglected heart at the forefront of her mind.  “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me” (Gen. 29:32).  “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also” (Gen. 29:33).  “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons” (Gen. 29:34).  Poor Leah!  Like every woman, she only wanted to be loved.  Her life must have been consumed with disappointment.  If it could creep into even the days beautified with the births of her babies, then it surely must have clung closely throughout every day.  What astounded me, though, as I read was the change as she bestowed her fourth son with the name Judah.  The footnote in the ESV says that Judah sounds like the Hebrew word for “praise”. With his birth she said simply, “This time I will praise the LORD.”  Do you see the shift in her focus?  From herself and her struggles, her disappointments, her longing…to her LORD and the good that He had done in her life.

Her words struck a hard chord of accusation in my heart.  This time I will praise the LORD.  Our pregnancy with Thea caught us completely by surprise.  We didn’t tell a soul for several weeks–not even the kids or our parents–because I needed to be able to share the news without grieving tears.  Imagine! Grieving over new life!  There certainly was little room for praise on my lips.  I said often, “I know this must be God’s will, and that He knows what’s best for our family.  And I know that once this baby comes, these thoughts will be long forgotten, and I will love him or her until my heart feels like it’s going to burst, but…”  So many people could testify to hearing these exact words from my mouth!  These are not words of which I am proud.  As a matter of fact, these words and these feelings I regret more than most any others in my life.  But they are truth.

After months of struggle, I finally mustered some excitement about the pregnancy.  I think it was something about the Christmas season, seeing the excitement in the eyes of the kids as they planned for their little sister.  And then, just weeks later at 20 weeks, 5 days, I lost all of it–her life, her future, and every small ounce of excitement–all gone within moments.  I was left with the numbing question, “This is what is best for our family?  We were content with our lives, with our family, and now I’m left with this insatiable, aching emptiness.  This is best?!”  Needless to say, it took several more months before I was able to say and mean that God had blessed me with Thea, that she was His gift, that perhaps He gave me an emptiness in order that I could learn to be filled only by Him.  The day finally did come, but oh, it was such a long and painful journey!

Coincidentally, it was a long and painful journey that I remember every part of–every twist in the path, every rock that caused me to stumble, every rainbow that crossed the sky, and every ray of sun bursting through the fog.  It’s strange because I remember so little of life during that time, but every step of that journey has been etched into my soul.  I look back on it all and say [Even in] this time I will praise the LORD.

Today, with 20 weeks and SIX days of life inside of me, I am ever so thankful.  I am thankful that He chose me, that He chose our family for this path.  I am thankful for this one more day, and I am thankful for every day.  And every day I will say, regardless of where this journey leads, This time I will praise the LORD.”

A New Song

You have turned my mourning into dancing:

You have loosed my sackcloth

And clothed me with gladness,

That my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.

Psalm 30:11-12a

A few weeks ago, a sweet friend of mine and fellow loss mom posed an intriguing question on social media:  “How do you know if something is coincidence or if it’s God?”  This is a question with which I’ve wrestled myself, especially over the last two years.  I didn’t comment.  It’s a difficult question to answer.  When your world has always been painted from top to bottom with black and white, it’s sometimes difficult to detect the vibrance of the Master Painter’s hand.  One might think the contrast would be obvious.  But it’s not always.  When you’re not looking for color, for beauty, are you less likely to see it?

Some would argue that since we can never know with certainty when something is without-a-doubt God, then we shouldn’t ever attribute anything to Him.  What if we are wrong in our assumption, and we attribute something to God that He had no hand in?  While I can follow this line of argument, still I question.  What would be the greater mistake?  To attribute something to God, even if He was not actively a part of it, and in the process direct others’ attention to Him and bring glory to His name?  Or to fail to give Him credit for something that He has done–no honor, no glory?

Then there are those beautiful, precious gifts that seem to be so unmistakably God.  Another very dear friend of mine braved a response to the original post that began, “Assume it’s God.  Thank Him and handle the situation as you think He would want.”  In those most precious moments–those gifts of His love–how would He want me to handle the situation?  In the question, I happened upon Psalm 30:11-12.  If He turns my mourning into dancing, removes the heavy cloak of grief that I’ve worn for so long and replaces it with a flowing gown of joy, then He surely has done so for a reason–that my glory may sing His praise and not. be. silent.

I have thought long and hard about this story and how to tell it.  What should be my approach?  How do I introduce it?  What details do I include?  I think I’m overthinking.  What else is new?  The analysis has kept me silent, but it is time to sing.  Therefore, I have decided just to tell the story.  It doesn’t have to be fancy; God’s handiwork is frilly enough in this one.  I will let it speak.

December has become a difficult month for me.  I’ve always loved the magic of the Christmas season, but the busy-ness overwhelms me.  Since Christmas of 2015, grief has added a numbness that made the busy-ness that much more difficult.  Many times over the last two years, I have wished that I could just fast-forward through it.  However, with children and birthdays (We have a two-week Powell party at our house!), fast-forwarding is not an option.  And truthfully, I wouldn’t want to fast forward through a solitary minute with my babies.  Sometimes the minutes are just hard.

This past December was no exception.  I was feeling distant, numb, disconnected.  But early in the month, I felt a great reassurance of God’s presence and His light.  Here’s a post from December 3, in case you missed it on the first go-round:

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On the way to worship this morning we drove through some pretty thick fog. We passed through downtown Birmingham, emergency lights flashing because we couldn’t see even one car link in front of us or behind us. My mind began swirling. Sometimes I still feel like I’m LIVING in that fog–fog so dense that I can’t see what’s behind me (because much of the last two years has literally been wiped from my memory with only faint traces here and there), and I have no idea what’s ahead. Often I feel guilty about it. I feel like I shouldn’t be here anymore, and yet I am. The realization that the fog could potentially exist for the rest of my earthly life is overwhelming. All of these things are rolling over and over in my mind when there is a sudden and very abrupt break. It’s not a gradual lifting of the fog; it’s just GONE. And in its place…a BRILLIANT, almost cloudless blue sky, the sun so bright, we had to shield our eyes. To go from such dense, grey fog to dazzling light in a matter of seconds was breathtaking.

But the most amazing part… While I was lost in the fog of my mind, playing just under the radar of my consciousness, “God, come quickly! Only You can save me! Will You lead me where the light is?” And at THAT MOMENT, there was the light, so bright that I couldn’t bear to look TOWARD it, much less INTO it. And you know one of the things I was praying for specifically last week? Sunshine! I wasn’t thinking so much about literal sunshine as much as SONshine and the warmth of God’s love, but He gave me BOTH.

I have faith that God WILL somehow, in some way, at some point (whether now or in eternity) lead me where the light is. I pray that He does it quickly in the here and now, but if not that He will grant me contentment and clarity. In the meantime, in the waiting, I trust that He is doing His best work, molding me and preparing me for whatever He will reveal when the fog lifts. So I will pray, and I will wait actively, and I will confess my shortcomings, and I will pray more (Chuck Webster as always, thank you for such a great lesson! The timing was amazing!). And I know that it will be exceedingly abundantly above anything I could ever imagine.

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It was almost as if God was beckoning to us, asking us to follow His lead out of the fog and into His light.  

It consumed me throughout week.  I decided to add to my daily prayer list the following week: “Take the evil and suffering in our lives and use it for good.”  It dawned on me, much to my shame, that in all the prayers I had audibly sobbed or the ones that I mouthed through silent tears into the darkness, I had never asked God to take the pain and work it into a beautiful masterpiece.  I had just assumed that He would, like the selfish teenager who just expects a car for her sweet sixteen. After all, He is in the redeeming business.   I had prayed specifically about the ways in which I thought it best for Him to do that.  I had prayed about an opportunity to volunteer at a Women’s Clinic, hoping that my story might save the lives of babies like my girl and give purpose to her loss.  I had prayed about adoption.  We had met with two separate agencies, and I had literature from five, but it just felt impossible.  The doors weren’t budging.  Anywhere.  So, as I prayed, I imagined God opening one of these doors for us to step through.  Also, in my Bible study that week, I read in I Peter 5:10-11, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  I prayed those words specifically over our family.  Since we had suffered, could He, would He now restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us?

The month continued.  We sang of joy to the world, peace on Earth, but they were words without meaning.  Darrell and I both had a hard time “getting into the spirit”.  We decorated and pushed ourselves to fulfill family traditions and obligations anyway, but the actions were very robotic.  I’ve always been a good gift-giver, especially for my own children.  I know them and know what things will bring that extra sparkle to their eyes.  But this Christmas, I had to ask them to make lists.  I felt like a failure.  I told Darrell that I was tired of having “things” just for the sake of having a present under the tree at Christmas.  Our move over the summer had convinced me that we had way too much.  I didn’t want “things” for Christmas.  I asked for heart gifts–rings with my babies’ names engraved on them, a new journaling Bible, and a 2018 planner.  That was all.    Little did I know that God had His own gift prepared for us that would shock my heart into overdrive.  On Christmas morning, our entire family received the most special gift we have ever received–a tiny little plus sign the size of a fingertip and the promise of hope.

Check out the kids’ reaction to the news :’)

Three weeks after God had literally led us out of the fog and into the light; three weeks after I had open-endedly prayed for Him to turn our suffering into good in whatever way He saw fit; three weeks after I had asked Him specifically to restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish our family…Three weeks later, we learned that I was five weeks pregnant.  PREGNANT!!!  FIVE WEEKS!!!  If you’re not a woman, or one that has been overly concerned with her cycle, you might not know that the first two weeks of pregnancy are basically freebies.  You’re not “technically” pregnant until the third(ish) week, give or take…which would mark the date of conception sometime during THAT week!

Of all the things I had asked of God, I had not once dared even to whisper for a baby.  There was nothing–nothing–that I wanted more.  However, after Thea’s loss, we learned that I was born with a bicornuate, septate uterus.  Quite frankly, my doctor was shocked that I had Eli and Eden–period–much less without complications.  The probability of another baby like Thea was rather high, and rather terrifying.  After much prayer, study, deliberation, anguish, and more prayer, we decided not to decide.  We made a prayerful choice to ask for what was best over what we wanted.  I knew that sometimes God gives us what we want, even when it’s not what’s best…cue the nation of Israel and her kings.  We didn’t want a baby, no matter what it took; we wanted our King.  What if another pregnancy would end like Thea’s and God knew that it would be too much for our family?  What if something happened to me, and my children had to grow up without their Mama?  Giving that decision to God was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  Though it crushed my heart, my fear wanted to blow the whistle and call “The End”.  But we decided to choose faith instead; we trusted that He knew what was best and would act accordingly.

So for two years, we prayed that He would make the decision that was best for our family.  And for two years, that answer was “no”.  We watched as other loss friends had empty arms filled with new love, and we listened as they spoke of incomparable healing.  We even heard our doctor speak the word “infertility” into our hearts only four short months ago.  But what science quickly dismissed as infertility, we claimed as Providence.  He was obviously at work in our lives, even if His work was in preventing a pregnancy.  How could we be disappointed with His hand directly involved in our lives?  Even though the “no” was disappointing, it was exhilarating to know that He was with us in this.

I know there will be skeptics who question our decision.  Isn’t it selfish to risk the life of a baby knowing that our choice could be the cause of his/her demise?  I would be lying if I said that those questions hadn’t clouded my mind as well.  But I realize that this decision was not ours.  For two years, God prevented it.  He certainly could have prevented it for the remainder of our child-bearing years.  But this one time, He said “yes” to something beautiful in our lives.  Given our prayers and the timing, I could never deny that this is His gift–His unbelievably joyous gift.

Regardless of how this story ends, I have faith that it will be beautiful.  That is specifically what I asked, and this is how He answered.  I am not naive enough to believe that the only way in which that can be accomplished is through a successful pregnancy with a healthy baby and mom.  I’ve thought much and often of the story of Joseph.  He endured much evil in the process of God’s beautiful rewrite of his narrative.  His ways are mysterious, but He is faithful and steadfast through them all.  Whether we introduce you to a healthy baby in August or an angel sometime before that, this story is already beautiful because it is hand-picked for our family from GOD!

2016 was hands down the hardest year of my life.  Pregnancy trouble began on January 7.  Thea was born at 21 weeks on January 18.  I don’t have many other specific memories of that year.  Maybe in a God-given blessing, it has been almost entirely wiped from my memory.  Last week, our preacher spoke about a two-letter Hebrew word found in Psalm 62 that is often translated in different ways.  In this psalm alone, it is translated in the ESV as “alone” (vv. 1, 2, 5, 8), “only” (vv. 4, 6), and “but” (v. 9).  In Hebrew, it precedes a statement that–based on a previous experience–might not come naturally or easily.  It is an implied nevertheless.  [I have endured this or that great hardship.]  Nevertheless, my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.  Nevertheless, He is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.  Listening to the lesson, I thought, “That was my 2016.”  I spent the year convincing my heart to cling to these truths that my head was urging me to accept.  God is my rock, my salvation, my fortress.  He is. He is. He is!  If I said it enough times, maybe it would stick.

It took almost a full year of convincing, but by the beginning of 2017, my heart had accepted, and I was ready to grow.  I decided to spend that yearfocused on faith in my personal Bible study –what is it?  Who is this God that I’ve placed so much faith in?  How does He work?  Does He work?

So here’s a basic outline of my life over the past two years:

2016: Clinging to Faith

2017:  Growing in Faith

Looks like 2018 will be Living by Faith.

“For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5).  I don’t know how many times I’ve read this verse over the past two years and wondered how long I would have to wait before my morning would begin to dawn.  Sometimes the night is long.  And it feels eternal.  But I’m just beginning to see the breaking of the sun, and it’s so beautiful!  (Our hearts are with those who are still “in the waiting”.)  Indeed, He has turned our mourning into dancing.  He has reclothed our grieving hearts with gladness.  And we will tell anyone willing to listen that He is faithful.  We cannot be silent.